Summerfest Day 7: Scenes from the local stage, The Go-Go’s, and Fever Marlene
- MONDO LUCHA! celebrates fifth anniversary in high-flying style at Turner Hall
- David Sedaris goes off book, shines at Pabst Theater
- Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck offer glimpses of greatness at Riverside Theater
- John Hodgman, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman give Pabst Theater three shows for price of one
- Top 5 musical moments from Kenosha’s 2013 Ride of the Living Dead
Wednesday seemed like a good day to stick around the K-Nation/Cascio stage for most of the day, but as we wandered around the grounds between the local stage and the Lakefront tent, one of the key differences between Summerfest and the other big-name music festivals became painfully apparent: Your chances of stumbling upon a cool band you’ve never heard of before are very, very slim. Throughout the day, spread out over the eight main music stages, you’ll hear more bad ’80s cover tunes than original songs, to the point where the sound of a generic blues outfit like The Incorruptibles With Big Bob becomes a relief to your ears. The bar is set so low at Summerfest that not-terrible becomes “good” when you’ve got no particular destination in mind. Upside: Those painful schedule conflicts where your two favorite bands play at the same time are also highly unlikely!
It also didn’t help the rest of our day that Body Futures was the first performance we caught. The weird post-punk/power-pop quartet makes almost everything else you’ll come across at Summerfest seem pretty unoriginal. The sound crew at the Cascio stage was probably not accustomed to factoring in an autoharp, nor some of the unorthodox effects coming out of Dixie Jacobs’ keyboard, so we weren’t necessarily getting the full Body Futures experience, but the songs spoke for themselves. Next was another Milwaukee band featuring a powerful female vocalist, Kassandra Gruszkowski, fronting the final performance of Enemy Star. The band plays a thrashy style of post-grunge, like the heavier side of latter-day Faith No More but less polished and faster. It’s definitely a throwback style, but the warm stage presence and vocal prowess of Gruszkowski and spot-on playing by the band (particularly bassist Dan Kubinksi, also of Die Kreuzen/Boy Dirt Car fame) made for a very entertaining set.
With some time to kill before headliners Midnight Reruns, we found refuge from the army of advertisements at the heretofore unnoticed Renegade Stage (tucked away near the $1-per-second zipline), where a band called Scratch 45 was ripping through a set of old punk rock tunes that turned out to be the tightest and most invigorating thing we’d see all night. There’s nothing original about dudes in their 50s playing old Dictators and Cock Spurrers covers, but the snarling declarations of “Who Will Save Rock And Roll” and “Because You’re Young” felt absurdly refreshing.
Following a barrage of Queensrÿche between-set music, Midnight Reruns came out to prepare us for the magical “hidden” fireworks extravaganza. There’s not much to say except this band has a bunch of terrific songs and the frantic energy of singer/guitarist Graham Hunt was enough to carry the performance; a curious lack of fire from guitarist Karl Giehl may have been due to technical and sound issues, but he seemed pretty listless for the most part. The band was solid, but as with many sets on this stage, this one left us pining for the reliable acoustics of Cactus Club—or anywhere but here. [Cal Roach]
Not that you’d know it from the upbeat poppiness of their music, but The Go-Go’s emerged from one of the most extreme scenes in the history of American rock, the same infamous L.A. punk underground that begat The Screamers, Germs, and Black Flag. Not much survives of their humble hardcore beginnings, but they’ve carried that credibility along with them their entire career, from their iconic trilogy of ’80s albums (Beauty And The Beat, Vacation, Talk Show), through their coke-fueled breakup and respective solo careers, and on to their inevitable new millennium reunion. The first chart-topping all-female group to write and record their own material, The Go-Go’s amply proved they could do anything the boys could do, up to and including giving somewhat lackluster performances to nostalgic fans at events like Summerfest. There was nothing overtly wrong with what they played or how they played it Wednesday night—they’re still adept musicians with a slew of deserved hits to their credit—but there was a distinct sense that the band was just sort of showing up and hitting their marks.
Counter-intuitively, The Go-Go’s sounded the most present and engaged on the most recognizable songs, like “Vacation” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” perhaps because of the energy they received from the modest but enthusiastic crowd. (Apparently there weren’t enough people to make it worth charging for the BMO Harris stage’s premium seating.) A handful of covers came with varying degrees of success: The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” was rather clunky, but the Ramones’ cheeky “I Wanna Be Sedated” proved a better fit. They even shoehorned a cover into their biggest hit, mashing up “We Got The Beat” with KISS’ “Rock And Roll All Nite.” The between-song banter and audience interaction was particularly strange, as when drummer Gina Shock emerged to address the audience but kept lowering the mic stand for some inexplicable reason, at one point just lying down on the stage; or when they invited a bunch of middle-aged men on stage to shake it to their rendition of The Capitols’ “Cool Jerk.” There were enough shining moments, like an encore of their punk-era “Fun With Ropes,” but overall, it left a lot to be desired. [Thomas Michalski]
Over at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse Wednesday night, Fever Marlene settled into a pleasant, charming set of sugary pop-rock tunes. The veterans of the 8 p.m. Summerfest timeslot fit in well again here. Learning from their previous gigs opening for the Flaming Lips and Social Distortion, lead singer Scott Starr attempted to engage with the younger, disengaged crowd that camped out in big numbers early for MGMT. While Starr seemed to pander just a bit (by photographing the crowd and saying, “We’ll throw that one on Facebook and you can all tag yourselves,” or playing to their sensibilities by joking, “This one’s called ‘Medicated Friends.’ It’s about all you guys.”), you can’t fault his efforts. Playing to such a sizable audience that’s simply saving a spot for the next act can be irritating.
Indeed, Starr’s finest hook for luring the crowd’s interest came from his band’s highly accessible catalog. Fever Marlene without a doubt played more spirited jams than their psych-pop headliners. The new record Medicated Friends is filled with perky, enjoyable pop songs, and the performance relied heavily on them. “Easy Eyes,” “Better,” and “Oh Berlin” were all high points, showcasing the band’s strengths as laid-back songwriters. Expanding from a duo to a five-piece has only aided their new and older material. An old favorite, “Civil War,” burned slow and felt more rounded out than ever.
In the end, Fever Marlene couldn’t compete with crowd apathy, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t put on one hell of a show. And, heck, we’d be surprised if they didn’t convert at least a few listeners. [Kevin Mueller]